City’s ‘sweetheart’ deal sour for OCC firm
By Dave Hughes

       I find it interesting that the city government of Colorado Springs, and local legislators, out of one side of their mouths supported a new state law that prohibits any Colorado municipality from getting into the Internet business. But out of the other side the city just approved an Internet scheme whereby an MCI-affiliated wireless business has the right to rent Colorado Springs Utilities light poles at sweetheart rates to provide wireless broadband services to two large swaths of the city. Which act, de facto puts city government into the Internet business.
       The cost to the wireless vendor will be a token $12.41 a full year each for the use of city poles on which to mount wi-fi type unlicensed radios. Nice deal if you can get it. It costs me and other “private marketplace” wireless vendors of Colorado Springs thousands of dollars to place our radios and antennas on private property.
       I am more interested in Colorado Springs getting its citizens into the Information Age than probably anyone else in the city. For 15 years, I argued the city should promote the uses of the Internet for small businesses and entrepreneurship, work-from-home professionals and moms, and modern K-12 public education, not only to increase their individual productivity, education for the future and the wealth of the city, but to cut down the daily cross-town auto commuting that is choking us and racking up huge taxpayer costs in a fruitless bid to build enough roads. But my arguments fell on deaf city ears.
       The main reason I established an Internet and wireless business in Old Colorado City more than 10 years ago was because neither US West/Qwest or Adelphia would extend broadband Internet three miles from downtown to the Westside, where small businesses and professionals working out of their homes wanted and needed it. The big companies wanted first to cherry-pick the affluent downtown and east side… like MCI wants to do now, with the city's backing.
       What has this got to do with the Westside? One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to know that the long-range MCI intent is to blanket the city with wireless internet on every city light or utility pole - including on the Westside, such as down Colorado Avenue. This can put me and other unsubsidized private wireless vendors out of business because MCI's taxpayer-supported cost for mounting radios will cost hugely less than we have to pay. What will they charge? They aren't saying.
       There are many other issues the city has not addressed, including technical, regulatory, and economic ones, such as the scalability of wi-fi radio technology in metro areas, and radio interference - even with radio routers Westsiders have in their homes or businesses. After 15 years national and international experience with wireless Internet, I know what problems are looming. But I see little evidence that the city knows what it is getting into. Yet, when I appeared before the city Telecommunications Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) over a year ago, inquiring about the city's own wireless use interfering with our radios, the city never even had the courtesy to reply.
       Since city agencies didn't bother to take my freely offered wireless advice then, you can be assured I am going to become a burr under their saddle now. If the city is now going to get into the broadband business, either directly or indirectly, I intend to see that it does so in ways that serve the Westside - publicly and privately - as well as any other part of town.

A long-time Westside civic leader, Dave Hughes is the owner of Old Colorado City Communications.